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The Making of Picture Book Illustrations: What is Preseparated Art?

Relief Printing



A Story, A Story color print (Click to Enlarge)

Woodcut print - click to view

Gail E. Haley made use of relief printing to illustrate her 1970 book A Story, A Story. She first created intricate woodcuts for each color in the image and combined them on a single piece of paper. This print could have been sent directly to the camera person and color separated photographically. Instead, the artist used a combination of woodcut prints and acetate overlays to deliver preseparated art. Her method for separating the colors is a little different than some of the other artists we’ve looked at. Instead of creating one separation for each of the process colors, she broke her artwork into color regions and indicated the percentages of the process colors needed to create them. The camera person then went through these separations and combined all the different tints of blue (cyan), red (magenta), yellow, and black onto four individual plates.

First, three woodcut prints were made on sheets of rice paper. The first shows the light green areas in the picture, which are created by printing 100% yellow ink and 30% cyan (blue). The second adds 45% black ink to create the darker green areas. The third print indicates areas to be printed brown using 100% yellow, 90% magenta (red), and 90% cyan (blue) ink.

These prints are supplemented with acetate overlays detailing the smaller color regions. The notes indicating the required color combinations are written in blue, a color that is not picked up by the film used by the camera person. There are also two instances where the overlays indicate that some areas should have white dropouts. This indicates to the camera person that those spaces should not be printed with any ink regardless of what the other separations specify.

A Story, A Story printed pages (Click to Enlarge)

Printed pages - click to view

The use of dropouts and the addition of some fine details such as black accent lines results in a finished image that is even more intricate and attractive than the original color woodblock print. This type of work is difficult and time consuming; it took two years to create the woodcuts and handmade color separations for this book 2. But it can also produce extraordinary results. Gail E. Haley was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1971 for A Story, A Story.

In this short clip Stephen Savage demonstrates how he used relief printing with linoleum blocks to create the illustrations for his 2013 book Polar Bear Morning, written by Lauren Thompson:

credit to videographer David Franklin

While relief printing is used to create the illustration, it is not used in the actual printing of the book. The print is used to create plates for offset lithography.


1. Pitz, Henry C. Illustrating Children's Books: History, Technique, Production. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1963. Print. 158-159

2. "Gail E. Haley." The Horn Book Magazine 86.4 (2010): 103. Print.